Thorns FC: Buckwild

That was utterly nuts.

The Thorns had scored a grand total of three goals in the 270 minutes preceding the home match against Orlando.

Then, in the 94 minutes between the whistles last Sunday, they scored four.

Or five, if you count the one Emily Menges scored for Orlando.

Either way, Portland rung up something like 17% of the goals they have scored all season last weekend. Something like 40% – 9 of 23 – of Portland’s goals have come against the hapless Pride. They’re like little purple points-dispensers and goal-conceders.

Whee!

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Perhaps the league should consider renaming the Orlando franchise. “Orlando Shame”? Just a thought.

Well. The Thorns eventually came out the winner, but before we talk about this match any further I want you to watch this.

Yes, I know. It’s the damned Courage. But look at it. Just go look at the thing. Then come back and we’ll chat.

So was that soccer, right there, or what? The passing, the moving to space, the communication? That’s brilliant, brilliant teamwork; that’s just a gorgeous team goal.

Goddamn it.

There’s no real reason that the Thorns couldn’t score that kind of goal. It’s not like North Carolina has internationals falling out of the trees in Cary. They were in the same place the Thorns were last weekend; putting a mixture of returning Brazilians and Aussies on the pitch alongside the left-behinders against a Tacoma that was doing the same.

But against Orlando, the worst goddamn team in the league, the Thorns needed:
1. A grotesque goalkeeper error by Haley Kopmeyer and a handball by Hayley Raso,
2. Another appalling defensive error, this time by both Kopmeyer and Shelina Zadorsky,
3. A Christine Sinclair strike from distance that forced a poor dive from Kopmeyer, and
4. A crazy 94th minute free header by an unmarked Tyler Lussi

Meanwhile the Thorns defense was doing way too much of this kind of thing:

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

In the 61st minute Marta has all the time and space she needs to run at Portland’s goal. Gabby Seiler does a good job fronting her up, but as you can see, Chioma Ubogagu is unmarked to Marta’s left front.

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Marta’s pass leads Ubogagu, who turns to goal and is correctly engaged by Liz Ball. Dagny Brynjarsdottir follows the play to cut off the backpass.

But Gabby Seiler turns and follows the ball, too.

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Ball, Dagny, and Ellie Carpenter converge on Ubogagu. Who’s stepped out of the backline (or arrived from midfield or the front line) to shadow Marta?

Nobody.

So when Ubogagu shanks the ball through the crowd of red shirts and it manages to bounce free at the top of the circle, who’s there to close it down with a crap-ton of space to tee it up?

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Yep. You got it. The Brazilian does what she’s done about a gajillion times before, sets up on the ball, uses the defender in front of her to unsight the keeper, and unleashes a fucking unholy hammer into the top right corner of the goal, and it’s 2-1 Portland.

This wasn’t a one-off. Portland’s defense was giving Orlando way too much space all match.

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Here’s Carpenter giving Ubogagu the whole west touchline to scamper along. She’d cheated way too far inside instead of being where she should have been as illustrated below.

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Between ceding too much on defense and not creating the sort of opportunities that the damn Courage made for Williams Portland made this match very exciting. Was that fun? Sure. Was it a good idea tactically?

Ummm…no.

Here’s the thing about this match. The Thorns took 19 shots and put 13 on frame, converting 4 plus the own-goal. Their xG was just about spot-on at 3.2.

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Orlando? Twelve shots, 6 on frame. xG?

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter.

0.74.

This game should never have been that close, needing a second-half injury time winner. Hell, it shouldn’t have been close at all. Portland should have stomped Orlando flat.

I know, I know. I’m Eeyore, I’m always negative, I always see the worst in the Thorns.

But it drives me nuts to see this team, with quality all over the pitch, with players of proven worth like Sinc and players breaking out in new-found glory like Purce, playing crap Route One bounceball with a bunch of no-hopers like the Pride. That’s been the Thorns story for far too long; playing down to the level of the opposition, letting the tomato cans hang around and nick points they don’t deserve.

That’s what gets me frustrated when I write these pieces. I want to see more, I want better from a team I love and believe can be better, and isn’t.

So. Final thought? For all that I’ve been hard of the defense the real issue was that the Thorns had almost nothing going forward in the final hour. They depended on Orlando defensive errors and brutal hacking and between bad luck, freakish strikes, and slack marking still let the Pride back into the match.

I sure as hell hope that reintegrating the Nats will help PTFC find some attacking rhythm.

Here’s a thought, though. I was never a huge fan of Paul Riley’s obsession with “fitness” when he was here, but I do have to wonder if some of the late-match letup was players just running out of gas. As the days get hotter and the season gets longer it’s going to be harder on players’ bodies. I wonder if the squad is paying now for a lack of emphasis on conditioning back in March and April..?

As a game it was crazy fun. As a win, it was great; three points are three points.

But champions are ruthless, and especially with crippled ducks like the Pride; they brutally wring their little necks and move on. Instead, PTFC let the ducky rascals flap around and they nearly quacked up a road point.

So.

Let’s go to Utah and put on an attacking display.

Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test. Thorns completion rate?

73%

Nice. That’ll do.

How Good Are The Thorns? – The xG Story. Here’s Henderson’s latest xG/goals matrix:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

If you check the Tacoma game’s matrix, giving up three goals to Orlando killed Britt Eckerstrom’s D.Diff, which went from -2.66 to -0.4; still negative, but just barely. The O.Diff went from -1.52 to -0.72, though, so Portland’s goal production offset their defensive letdowns to keep them right where they are on the table, just behind the damned Courage.

Although if you want to feel humiliated check the change in Orlando’s O.Diff; ringing up 3 on us drove their differential from a negative (-0.93; 10 goals scored on an xG of 10.93) to over 1; 13 goals scored on an xG of 11.67.

Well, crap.

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Player ratings and comments

Raso (70′ – +11/-1 : +2/-2 : +13/-3) Sorry, Ribbons, but much as I loved your utterly owning Kopemeyer, this…

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

…really IS a handball.

Other than that Raso had a pretty terrific first half. Toni Pressley denied her in the 11th minute of what might have been the quickest brace in Thorns history. Visibly ran out of gas early in the second half, so good sub to pull her off.

Lussi (20′ – +3/-1) You know those people who are kind of famous just for being there? Scene-sters, glitterati, the sort of people who show up and everyone is “Who is that? Do you know her? I think she’s famous. What’s she famous for?”

Tyler Lussi is getting to be that person.

She comes on in Houston with the Thorns down a goal and looking clueless and blasts a golazo. She comes on against Orlando and does pretty much nothing for a third of an hour, the Thorns give up the equalizer on her shift, and then she suddenly flies in out of the crowd and powers home the matchwinner.

She’s the least likely heroine of the 2019 season, and my reactions are, in order, 1) WT actual F?, and 2) Thank you, Tyler Lussi, you Ivy League madwoman!

Purce (66′ – +6/-1 : +2/-0 : +8/-1) Fine match from Purce, who gets the Sinead Farrelly Little Engine That Could Award for at 5’4″ outjumping both Erin Greening (5’6″) and Zadorsky (5’7″) on her 58th minute goal, which means that Rosie Perez plays her in the movie.

Dunno who plays Greening and Zadorsky. Probably somebody who can’t jump.

Faded quickly after the goal, so the sub was well timed.

Foord (24′ – +3/-4) Had one nice moment, a well-timed drop to Sinclair for her 66th minute goal.

Otherwise, still looking much as she did in France, just not quite “on”. The runs are just a touch too slow or the wrong direction, the passes are a skitch over- or under-hit, the shots either not coming or not on frame when they do.

I’m honestly not sure whether this is Foord having a tough time working back into the matchday XI, or if it’s her, some sort of personal, individual problem. Either way, she’s not effective on the pitch at the moment.

Sinclair (+9/-1 : +4/-5 : +10/-7) Terrific attempt in the 11th minute that was stoned, like Raso’s was, by Pressley and, of course, the thunderous goal from distance.

But otherwise the captain still looks to be troubled by pace and touch and…just not looking like the old Sinc that terrified defenses across leagues and years.

Sinclair has been a great player for such a long time that it’s hard to imagine a time when she will not be. But all players, even the greatest, reach the limits of their bodies’ ability to perform at the highest level. Are we seeing that happen to our beloved captain?

And yet…we’ve seen this before; in 2014, the Year of the Black Yips. In 2017, when Sinc was asked to play further back in midfield. Every time she seems to be on the verge of breaking down, she manages to reinvent herself. So perhaps this is just the effect of a tiring stretch in France, and we’ll see her back to her usual self at Rio Tinto.

Brynjarsdottir (+9/-1 : +5/-2 : +14/-3) Dagny has been the Beast of the Midfield this season, and she was again against Orlando. A monster in the air, and a menace to anything moving through midfield, Dagny is doing good work and did against the Pride; my pick for Woman of the Match.

Seiler (+9/-1 : +4/-1 : +13/-2) Solid playing alongside Dagny, and an aggressive tackler that was effective breaking up Orlando possession; added to that with a terrific shot on goal that won the match-winning corner kick.

Seiler ranges all over the center of the pitch; here’s her “defensive actions” chart:

Image by NWSL.com in public domain

Terrific forechecking defense and coverage all across the defensive half; Seiler is having a hell of a season, perhaps the best of the left-behinders after Purce.

Didn’t do well on the Marta goal, as noted above, but generally effective on both sides of the ball. Well done.

Klingenberg (+7/-2 : +3/-1 : +10/3) Solid, very solid. Did have one sketchy moment when she left Rachel Hill unmarked, but Hill banged her shot off the crossbar, so, whew. Otherwise some crisp passing and the assist on the Lussi goal, so overall a damn fine shift.

Ball (73′ – +7/-7 : +4/-2 : +11/-9) Liz Ball fought with Marta all match, and it’s to her credit that the Brazilian didn’t run wild on Portland’s defense. Had a wonderful tackle in the 34th minute – that’s the picture above the header for this section – that nicked the ball right out from under Marta’s feet. Otherwise was reliable defensively and had some nice passing out of the back.

Boureille (17′ – +1/-0 ) Not a factor.

Menges (+3/-2 : +5/-3 : +8/-5) Still not looking in her best form, Menges was victimized by a rocket cross from Marta for the own-goal; not really her fault, but difficult to overlook given that she’s still not playing at the level she attained in 2017. At the time she was mentioned as being criminally overlooked for the USWNT; that sort of discussion has largely disappeared given her injury troubles and form over the past several seasons.

The Thorns defense needs to be better. And, if history has any value, for that to happen Menges’ form needs to be better.

Reynolds (+4/-1 : +2/-3 : +6/-4) Another very “Kat Reynolds” sort of match; nothing spectacular, nothing awful…decent, respectable, unexceptional. My guess is that Reynolds will return to the bench when Sonnett is available; she hasn’t shown she’s better at the right outside back position than Ball.

Carpenter (+5/-3 : +5/-4 : +10/-7) This match highlighted two of Carpenter’s most salient qualities; her youth, and her skills. Take the pictures above of the 8th minute. In the upper screenshot Carpenter has cheated way too far inside and has given Ubogagu the whole touchline to run up. But in the end, Carpenter’s pace (and a poor touch by Ubogagu) allowed Carpenter to recover and prevent the Orlando forward from doing any damage.

All her usual strengths; pace, vision, and creativity. Interestingly, while Klingenberg is known for her service into the box, Carpenter tried one more open-play cross (7 to Kling’s 6) and was successful about as often (43% to Kling’s 50%)

Eckerstrom (+2/-0 : +0/-1 : +2/-1) Hard to say if she could have done better on any of the Orlando goals (the own-goal was unstoppable), but the Marta goal was a golazo, and Eck appeared to be largely unsighted in the Greening goal. Other than that, Eck wasn’t really tested.

Almost had an assist in the 25th minute, when Carson Pickett misplayed her long clearance and Raso ran onto it, but Kopmeyer came out strong for a change and Raso’s shot was harmlessly over the crossbar. Had another chance in the 84th, when she dimed Lussi at 80 yards, but then Lussi’s great pass into Foord went to waste when Foord shot harmlessly into Kopmeyer.

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Coach Parsons – Well…his team won. So there’s that.

The actual match play is hard to praise or condemn the coach for, given that both the concessions and the goals came from individual efforts or errors, either from his own team or his opponents.

The substitutions were appropriate, so Parsons gets credit for those.

But the course of the match was Portland jumping on Orlando early and then taking their foot off the Pride’s collective neck and having to nick a goal in the final minute of extra time. That’s either not really very good matchday management – which is on the coach – or a fitness issue…which is also on the coach.

And it’s hard not to go back to look at that Lynn Williams goal against Tacoma. Why the hell aren’t we doing that? Coach, this is your squad. You tell me; why not?

Tomorrow the Thorns visit Utah for the first time this season. The Royals are in free fall, winless in their last three.

How about we make that four, eh?

John Lawes

Soccer-obsessive. Stats geek. Thorns supporter. Former Slide Rule Pass and Stumptown Footy Thorns beat writer. One of those people who's "often mistaken but never wrong"...

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